A social network in private life is an uncomplicated proposition compared to connecting in a work environment. Consumer and even business-oriented social network tools are geared for individual rather than corporate promotion. Corporate social networking tools are coming on the scene and bringing with them the ability to gain insight into what matters to your company.
I like the idea of using a secure, professional-topics-only social
networking application at work. This service isn't Facebook. The terms of
service currently prohibit having multiple accounts and the effort needed to
segregate my friends and family from my colleagues is impossible. As I
wrote at the beginning of the year in a column entitled "Double Identity," it's
getting harder to control "the growing overlap between my personal and
corporate [online] identity."
There is an alternative to Facebook in the enterprise and that's Chatter, from
Salesforce.com. I've seen Chatter in action and I like what I see. But I would
like to see some things added to Chatter to make it easier to access everyone
with whom I wish to chat.
Let's start with the first order of business: cost. I'm fine with my company
paying $15 per month, per user for me to have access to the Chatter client. Chatter is
available at no additional cost for licensed Salesforce.com customers who are
already using an edition of Sales or Service Cloud. So, the first order of
business then is to understand that everyone who wants or needs to participate
in a professional social networking environment needs to pay for the application.
Second, I'm fine with the company owning the data. I think there is a place for
professional social networks such as LinkedIn, but these are tools for
individuals-not corporate advancement. The reason there are so many
"free" social networking services available is the data and the people
providing the data are donating huge amounts of labor and product. This labor and
product can be sold or rented in all sorts of ways that most corporations would
shudder to consider. What company wants competitors to know that your sales
team is suddenly interest in "Prospect A?" For that matter, Prospect A likely
doesn't want the attention either.
Third, the next step is facilitating communication between those outside the
company and those inside. For example, competitors shouldn't get alerted to
interest in Prospect A through social networking, but your partner network
likely should be.
Finally, social networking inside a professional context could be a radical
advance in organizational communication. Instead of sending an e-mail blast to
"all," a sales person could ask a question in a social networking stream. If
someone in the organization can provide a quick answer, then problem solved.
It's not clear to me that social networking ("best effort" networking, if you
will) will replace formal business structures for ensuring that business
problems are resolved in a methodical matter ("guaranteed delivery"). It is
clear that social networking could certainly speed up things.
Valuable information is revealed as the social actions of employees moves the
focus of attention throughout your organization. As sales, customer service,
engineering, marketing and manufacturing interact, anomalies can be revealed.
Instead of letting all the great trend or spike data get captured by a "no
cost" social network outside your organization, now might be the time to use
business-class social networking tools to promote cross-department
communication and rapid-response problem solving. After all, you can't manage
what you can't measure.